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Author Archives: robreyes19

The Final Frontiersman [The Godfather Part II] (093122)

“I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.”

I’m one of the few people that prefers the Godfather Part II over Part I. It wasn’t always this way. I guess it’s because I didn’t catch on to all the subtle implications that the film made when I was younger. Part I & II of the Godfather can be compared to the novels of Jose Rizal, “Noli me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” On the one hand, ‘Noli’ is, for the most part, a bright and idealistic novel. ‘El Fili’ on the other, is very dark and political. Take away the violence and bloodshed in Part I, and one might be able to notice the idealistic aspirations of the characters. The primary concern of Michael is the safety and protection of his family, as well as the legitimization of the Corleone Empire. Fast-forward seven years to Part II, and we come to find that the Corleones haven’t quite made it there. The sequel is undoubtedly more dark, gritty, unforgiving, and merciless than the first. In many ways, it’s more exciting and controversial. However, one needs a good background of Part I in order to fully appreciate Part II.

Perhaps, the reason why most people still prefer Part I over II is that the former is more concise and concentrated, whereas the latter has numerous sub-plots intermixing with the main storyline. Then there are the intermittent flashbacks. A lot definitely goes on during the film, but in my opinion, these sub-plots helped emphasize the increasing complications that Michael faces as Don. The prowess of Pacino’s acting convinces the audience of Michael’s sincerity – he’s a man hell-bent on keeping his family together by being strong for all of them. He knows that the foundation of his family rests on his shoulders – it always has. He doesn’t view this fact self-righteously. Rather, it is a responsibility of the utmost significance and importance passed on to him by his father, and he shall honor it to his grave.

One of the best things about Part II is that it flows a lot like a Western. The ways of the Old West are slowly, but surely dying, and every outlaw has to deal with the changes. We get a hint of this in Part I, when Tom Hagen tells Don Vito, “This is almost 1946. Nobody wants bloodshed anymore.” Frankie Pentangeli is like a stubborn, aging cowboy – firmly grounded in his roots and resistant to change. He becomes enraged when Michael denies his request to go after the Rosato brothers. He’s hit hard with the Age of Industrialization, and realizes that there are new rules to follow. It’s either he gets in line, or gets eliminated. Although Michael has always been one to adapt to any situation, the dawn of the new era also takes its toll on him as well. With the Senate breathing down his neck, and traitors trying to beat him to the ‘Gold Rush’ in Havana, suddenly, the legitimization of his empire becomes all the more imperative. However, he does have to rely on traditional methods to come out on top. The scene wherein Michael meets with his caporegimes and soldiers is an unforgettable one: He looks at Tom dead in the eye and says, “If anything in this life is certain – if history has taught us anything – it’s that you can kill anyone.”

The only way for Michael to secure the pinnacle of the Corleone family’s power and prestige is to once again deal a hand of cold-hearted detachment, even to his loved ones. A threat to the family, even from the inside, is still a threat to the family, and must be dealt with accordingly. Even though Michael is a witness to the ushering in of a new age, the blood of a decisive, uncompromising, and relentless outlaw still runs through his veins.

Old habits die hard, but some never die at all.

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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The French Connection [Paris, je t’aime] (093122)

Most people think that short films are easy to make. Why wouldn’t they be? They only go for approximately fifteen minutes – and even that is considered long. However, I disagree. Short films are much more difficult to shoot than feature length films because one is given such a limited time frame to convey one’s message. I’m not talking about the whole minimalist, “less is more,” crap. I’m talking about saying so much with the little that you have. Limited screen time, limited budget, limited production, limited everything… It must be an adrenaline rush to create a short film.

Having eighteen short films play one after the other was truly a delight. Sometimes, in feature length films, good writing can compensate for bad cinematography and vice-versa. In short films, however, this is not the case. Thus, it is imperative for the writer and director (if they are two different people) to have some sort of rare chemistry when it comes to their work. This makes viewing short films so exciting. There are a lot of subtle techniques that filmmakers use for short films because of the time constraint. One of these techniques can be seen in the segment about the Spanish immigrant. The director conveyed the caretaker’s detachment to her employer’s baby by simply obscuring the image of the latter while the former sang a lullaby – a lullaby that she sings to her own child. Simple. Effective. Brilliant.

Regarding the eighteen separate storylines, I really must commend the writers. It’s no small feat to create a concisely written script for a feature length film. What more for a short? Almost every film started ‘in medias res’ and the true test of a tightly written script is if the audience can immediately catch on to what’s being shown on screen. Honestly, I had no problems in deciphering the plot in any of the shorts, and no character seemed underdeveloped. However, I was expecting something like the film “Crash,” wherein all the stories somehow interconnect with one another. Then again, how do you connect eighteen short films, right?

Looking back, I enjoyed most of the short films, with the exception of maybe two or three. Stylistically, these three weren’t bad at all. I just couldn’t identify with them. The films I could identify with actually paralleled my love life in many ways. Paris je t’aime features not only many different stories about love, but also love’s different stages. There is of course the beginning – that first spark, the initial attraction that pulls you together. Sometimes, we mistake a spark for a misfire. Things don’t always go our way. May it be a mere coincidence or the hand of destiny, who knows? Who really cares? There’s just the moment and you try to hold on to it as best as you can. It’s the stage wherein everything is good, and you feel like it’ll last forever, like nothing can touch you.

Then there are the fights that you have. She decides to pick on you for something small, or your own insensitivity causes her to snap. But you chase after her to make it work because no one else you know at that moment can make you as happy as she does. Sometimes, you get tired of one another. Maybe something causes you to rekindle that fire – or not. Sometimes, something terrible happens. A shit storm just decides to head your way. Maybe you’ve caused it, or maybe she’s caused it. When it pours, it doesn’t really matter anymore because things are falling apart faster than you can fix them. And if things don’t turn out for the better… Well, who wants to remember what that’s like?

Wow. All that (and more) in eighteen short films. So many of the films were a little too familiar for comfort, but that’s probably why I enjoyed them so much. I believe that the love (be it romantic or otherwise) that people have for one another is unique. Nevertheless, it was reassuring to know that, somewhere in the world, thousands of miles away – there were people who had an idea of what it was like to be me. The need to be understood, the need to feel connected is one of the most important things besides love.

We’re not just looking for that special someone. We’re looking for that connection that will last a lifetime.

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Sinister Swagger [The Godfather Part I] (093122)

Is it just me, or does the Godfather get better and better after multiple viewings? It’s truly one of those rare films that have it all – a simple, yet intriguing plot; great character development; high quality sound and video editing (that still rivals many modern films); a concisely written script; precise directing; powerful acting; unforgettable dialogue; mystery, violence, and romance. No wonder this film has made such a lasting impact on popular culture. There are countless – and I literally mean, countless – films, television shows, commercials, graphic novels and books that make obvious references in (sometimes humorous) tribute to the Godfather. It’s home to all the popular catch phrases such as, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business,” “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” And those are just some of the more recognizable lines. Scenes like the diner execution, the planting of the horse’s head, and the baptismal cross-cutting sequence have all been referenced innumerable times. But like they say, nothing beats the original. EVER.

I’m a die-hard Godfather fan. I fell in love with Mario Puzo’s not so seemingly fictional universe when I was still in high school. I’ve seen each of the installments at least twice, I’ve played the video game at least thrice, I’ve read the book twice, and I even read its side story novel that takes place during Michael Corleone’s exile in Sicily. Yet, even after all that (possibly unhealthy) exposure, I always, always, always get a kick out of watching the films. The Godfather is the ultimate vice. The only thing it lacks is the ability to be rolled up into a joint and smoked.

To get the full Godfather experience, one really has to soak up every available medium of it. The novel flows very differently than the film and provides rich back-stories to many of its characters, thus making them even more appealing. The game allows you to participate in all the cool scenes that take place. As an up and coming Mafioso, you’re tasked with playing crucial roles such as taping the gun for Michael in the diner’s bathroom, planting the head of Khartoum in Jack Woltz’s bed, executing the heads of the other four families, and many more.

Each individual experience of the Godfather universe acts as a puzzle that completes a larger whole. But the one element that has remained constant, whether in the books, the game, or the films, is the art of persuasion. In the game, one can extort various small, large, legal, and illegal business merchants. One can achieve this by physical methods, but the more ‘respect’ one’s character gains, the easier it becomes to smooth-talk these merchants into accepting your ‘protection’ services. The main characters in the Godfather like Don Vito, Michael, and Tom Hagen have one thing in common – they’re all smooth negotiators. In the book, Don Vito remarks, “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more money than a hundred men with guns.” The one thing I really liked about the Godfather, and which in my opinion makes it the best gangster flick of all time, is that it really dramatized the importance of effective communication.

A lot of gangster movies today focus on mere visual aesthetics: scenes of cars and houses blowing up, drugs, sex, booze, rampant murder and bloodshed, etc. But hardly any of them feature true Mafiosos. The word ‘mafia’ loosely translates into the word ‘swagger’ or ‘boldness.’ The Godfather sets the standard for swagger. It’s not about walking around in an expensive three-piece suit, driving a luxury car, carrying a gun, and having tons of money and women all around you. Swagger is having the ability to ease your prey into a fall sense of security and having the cold-bloodedness to strangle them with garrote wire.

Even if you happen to be the brother of your prey’s wife and godfather to his only child…

 
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Posted by on 23 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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No File Left Unturned [Zodiac] (093122)

First of all, I just have to get this out there – David Fincher is a genius! When I think of the film Zodiac, I really don’t know where to begin. There’s just too much to commend. The acting, the scenery, the plot and character development, the suspense, the humor, the sound editing and visuals… Damn, this really was a complete film. A few months ago, I remember watching a Nike commercial on YouTube. It was a part of their “Leave Nothing” American football campaign. In just one minute, David Fincher covered the entire lives of football players LaDainian Tomilson and Troy Polomalu from infancy to adulthood. In that single minute, Fincher covered the values and emotions of affection, determination, integrity, sportsmanship, and passion. It takes a lot of talent to do that. Imagine the kind of brilliance that he could display given a hundred and fifty-seven minutes. That’s exactly what Zodiac was: A hundred and fifty-seven minutes of unadulterated brilliance.

Fincher breathes life into what would otherwise be boring material. Yeah sure, murder mysteries make great sources of suspense, but the thing about Zodiac was that it wasn’t so much about an unsolved murder case as it was about one man’s obsession with it. The film had quite a number of murder and suspense scenes, but the main focus was really on Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) quest to satisfy his own nagging curiosity. At one point, his wife asks him, “When does it end? When will you finally give all this up?” The stoic Graysmith replies, “I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye, and I need to know that it’s him.” When I heard him say that, I thought to myself, Shit… I know exactly what that’s like… His wife stares back at him with a look of submissive irritation. Shit… My girlfriend sometimes gives me that look…

What made Zodiac so entertaining to watch was Fincher’s portrayal of Graysmith’s character. I’ve come across dozens of similar books that are heavily based on research, case studies, reports, and articles. More often than not, they’re really boring. Having Graysmith as the unlikely amateur detective really put a positive spin to the entire film. I’m reading a book by Christopher Moore entitled “A Dirty Job.” The book’s main character is what Moore refers to as a “Beta Male” – soft spoken, reserved, and constantly underestimated and overtaken by their societal older brother, the Alpha Male. Moore jokingly quips that the only two reasons that women actually have sex with Beta Males is that they can be relied on for their fidelity and that they’ll probably survive longer than Alpha Males. There’s no doubt that Graysmith is a Beta Male. I mean, come on – he’s an obsessed political cartoonist running around acting like some kind of sleuth. (Plus, there is that thing with his wife). But hey, that’s what makes him such a likeable character. He’s the classic American underdog that you can’t help rooting for!

Fincher’s magic coupled with Gyllenhaal’s equally commendable acting make Zodiac an instant hit. Maybe it’s not the kind of film that everyone would enjoy, but it’s definitely one that you wouldn’t forget. Looking back on the film, most of the scenes I recall were of Graysmith frantically scurrying around San Fransisco and burying himself neck-deep in case files. That isn’t the kind of thing that would seem entertaining to watch, but like I said, Fincher’s a damn good magician. Although it doesn’t end as rosily as most may have hoped, Graysmith does walk away with quite a remarkable victory. However, this victory, this Beta Male triumph is not without a price.

Given the chance, most people would probably ask the real Graysmith if, after years of hardship, frustration, and backbreaking research; after standing there and looking Zodiac in the eye; and after knowing with as much certainty as he could possibly have that it was him… Was it worth it?

I can tell you that in all likelihood, for Graysmith, it was damn well worth it…

 
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Posted by on 23 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A Craftily Spun Web [Spider] (093122)

There are quite a few films that feature schizophrenic protagonists. They could be provocative, such as Black Swan; suspenseful, like A Beautiful Mind; and humorous – Me, Myself, and Irene. Spider has little similarities, if none at all, with these other films. All films face the challenge of keeping their audiences entertained, but highly subjective films like Spider have to go the extra mile. Since we can only ‘see’ through the eyes of Dennis Cleg, we are heavily dependent on his perspective to deliver the plot and its development in an interesting way. Too much information will bore us, and too little of it will leave us frustrated. David Cronenberg is a truly talented filmmaker for ending the film with the right amount of vagueness.

Spider starts off slowly, picks up a bit of speed, and then maintains its pace for the remaining duration. Honestly, it felt much longer than its 98 minutes. However, this ‘slowness’ works to the film’s advantage on several levels. One of the factors that contributes to its slowness is the fact that the protagonist himself is having difficulty in piecing together fragments of his memory. As a viewer, I could feel the excruciating and painstaking frustration of Dennis in stringing together bits and pieces of flashbacks into a coherent whole. At one point, I wanted to yell, “Figure it out already damn it!” But then I stopped myself because I couldn’t help sympathizing with the guy. (On a side note, I really must commend Ralph Fiennes for a great performance – his retardation was absolutely convincing).

Second of all, the film’s apparent slowness can mislead the audience into making hasty conclusions. At least, that’s what happened with me. When the landlady told Dennis that she was ‘Mrs. Wilkinson’ and when the woman at the bar with whom Dennis’ father was adulterating introduced herself as Yvonne Wilkinson, I sat up in my chair and thought I had figured out the plot twist. Of course, an hour of seemingly pointless reflection on Dennis’ part would lead any impatient person to conclude that. Since the plot was taking it sweet time to unfold, I took it upon myself to jump the gun and figure it out. Score one for the film though because I got it completely wrong.

Lastly, the deliberate slowness of the film sort of lulled me into a state of submission. I knew from the get-go that Spider was a subjective film. Yet for some reason, in my trance, I had forgotten that subjectivity is often a source of inaccuracy. At first, I wondered how Dennis Cleg could have recalled all those scenes at the bar and the tool shed when he was supposedly at home. But I eventually relented and let the film take its course. I ended up resenting Dennis’ father the way he had resented him. Every time Yvonne (holy crap, she was played by Miranda Richardson too?) would appear on screen, I’d internally yell, “You whore!”

The success of the film’s subjectivity is that it, however briefly, made me side with Dennis Cleg. Even when there were hints of his insanity (the fact that he was in a halfway house for the mentally ill, the flashback of the institution, and the second encounter with his father in the tool shed), I wrote them off completely. I figured that he was unjustly condemned to an asylum by his dickhead father. When the final scene unfolded, and the ‘Yvonne Wilkinson’ that Dennis killed as a boy turned out to be his own mother, my jaw dropped. No, that isn’t a figure of speech. My jaw LITERALLY DROPPED. That psycho Dennis Cleg betrayed me! That sneaky bastard with the Oedipus complex!

There are only a handful of films that have left me feeling satisfyingly stupid, and Spider is definitely one for the books.

 
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Posted by on 23 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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V for Vexation [V for Vendetta] (093122)

Graphic novels are always great sources for filmmakers. It has all the good parts of a regular novel – plot, setting, character development, etc. – and a solid storyboard complete with emotion. This is why we get such awesome films like Watchmen, 300, Sin City, and the Dark Knight (although there is no such graphic novel under the title “Dark Knight” that I am aware of, I am of the belief that this film was based on at least two of Batman’s graphic novels – The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke). They’re all visually stunning and pack a powerful intellectually stimulating punch. Watching these films over and over again always leaves me feeling satisfied. Which is weird, considering that after watching V for Vendetta the second time, I can’t help feeling empty.

It’s not the fact that the film is “all out,” meaning it doesn’t disguise its intended message or revelation to the audience. It’s quite clear and open about it’s views on totalitarianism and anarchy. Which makes me wonder if the film was supposed to be a political film at all. I definitely don’t feel inspired to become some sort of revolutionary, but even on the intellectual level, I can’t really say that I’ve been moved or offered some new kind of perspective. It wasn’t like seeing Watchmen, wherein I had to come to terms with whether I agreed with Ozymandias, or not – that even though his “peace” was manufactured, it was peace nonetheless. The same thing happens every time I watch the Dark Knight. Oftentimes, the truth isn’t good enough, and perhaps lying is the only recourse for the common good.

The kinds of films that leave me torn between condemning or condoning are my absolute favorites. But after watching V for Vendetta, I’m still wondering what the whole point was. As a political film, I must say that it fails. There wasn’t much of a revolution in V for Vendetta. Yes, they all gathered and watched Parliament get blown to Kingdom-come, but then what? Maybe I’m a bit conventional and old-school, but if you’re going to talk about revolution, you better bring it, son.

One of the most kick-ass games of all time is Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. The game is set in the 1900’s on the Western Frontier, particularly in New Austin, Texas. In the story, the protagonist is a former outlaw who is being coerced by the Federal Bureau to hunt down and kill the criminals he used to ride with. His mission eventually takes him to Mexico wherein yet another revolution is taking place. Eventually, the player must participate in the uprising and help to overthrow the Mexican tyrants.

This part of the game touches on many issues of politics, and quite frankly, delivers them in darker and grittier methods than V for Vendetta. One of the characters, a schoolteacher named Luisa says, “There can be no revolution without blood. We all must suffer and sacrifice if things are to get better in Mexico.” Another character quips, “If a hungry man cries to you for help, will you put an arm around his shoulder, or beat him till he grows food for himself? Western idealism has no place in a poor country like Mexico. There is only violence and politics.” Absolutely brilliant. Even more so since, to some degree, it reflects the state of Philippine politics and poverty.

V for Vendetta, in my opinion, doesn’t offer anything close. V talks about blood, but there’s hardly any to go around. Sure, he kills a bunch of guys, but most of them are just useless bodyguards. The people don’t get their hands dirty, unlike in Red Dead Redemption. Although V for Vendetta falls short several levels, the one thing I do appreciate about the film is the sequence wherein V subjects Evey to a fabricated imprisonment in order for her to truly experience what it is to be without fear. I would have liked it better if the film had touched more on the subject of V’s extremist methods and its possible justifications.

Although ideas are “bulletproof,” they aren’t always apparent. The idea of this film remains as much a mystery to me as the man behind the mask.

 
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Posted by on 9 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Forcing Fate [La Jetee] (093122)

There’s something about black and white photography that makes it so versatile in story telling. They can easily produce a somber mood or indicate sadness, oppression, and longing. Conversely, black and white pictures can also depict joy, victory, and triumph. The lack of any specific color allows the viewer to “fill in the blanks” so to speak. This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Chris Marker’s photo-roman. La Jetee allowed me to participate in its storytelling so effortlessly, and that is no small feat. Many filmmakers struggle to have their audiences reciprocate. Conventional filmmaking calls for films that are visually stunning – spectacles for the eyes, if you will. The problem with a perfect looking film is that it leaves no room for the viewer in which to move in. He’s stuck looking at a perfected piece of art and his inputs are next to meaningless.

I had the same sensation when watching Kevin Smith’s independent film, Clerks. The whole film was shot in black and white, and I found myself constantly imagining the colors of the characters’ clothes and the settings wherein the film took place. Being able to choose the colors myself makes me remember everything much more clearly. Black and white won’t work for all films, however. It succeeds only in films that are driven towards intellectual stimulation. Kevin Smith’s character, Silent Bob, made a damn good point towards the film’s conclusion – a point that is still largely unlearned by many. If this is true, then what is so intellectually stimulating about La Jetee?

Well, it definitely wasn’t the ending. After having seen the sci-fi film Twelve Monkeys, I clued-in to the ending once the narrator mentioned that the boy “only till years later, realized that he had seen a man die.” But from what I’ve learned, Twelve Monkeys was based of La Jetee, so I have to give credit to the latter. Still, as haunting as it may be for a child to witness his future death, it wasn’t this event that captured my admiration. Looking back on the photo-roman, it is my opinion that La Jetee can be viewed as a metaphor for pre-destination. Pre-destination is a concept that has controversy written all over it, and thus makes a great foundation for an experimental “film” such as La Jetee.

I was born a Roman Catholic and I live in a nation with the largest Christian population in Asia. Pre-destination is especially controversial in my setting. It’s not as simple as believing it or not. Not believing in pre-destination seems so un-Christian. But who can blame anyone for resisting such a notion? It’s basic human nature to rebel. Tell a man that he will fail at something, and you can bet your money that in all likelihood, that man will struggle to prove you wrong. Some people may be comfortable with everything being planned out for them. But others, like myself, cannot and will not accept the idea of a future not written by our own bloodstained hands.

What makes La Jetee so great to watch is that its conclusion tears at the very fabric of my belief system – that man is always in control of his fate. He, and no one else, chooses the path of his destiny. In La Jetee, we see the unnamed protagonist struggle, and struggle, and struggle, and struggle to carve a future for himself with the woman at Orly. But no matter how hard he tries, he inevitably meets his own demise at the place he first saw her as a boy. Perhaps it is true – no man can outrun his destiny.

But that’s not enough to stop me from trying.

 
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Posted by on 6 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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